Top 10 Beauty Pageant Controversies & Scandals
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Top 10 Beauty Pageant Controversies & Scandals

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Mandy Anne Lutman
These beauty pageants took the crown for controversies and scandals. For this list, we'll be looking at the most notable pieces of news involving the pageant world that left us completely speechless. Our countdown includes Steve Harvey's mistake, Rima Fakih's actions, a controversial picture, and more!

Top 10 Beauty Pageant Controversies and Scandals

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Beauty Pageant Controversies and Scandals.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most notable pieces of news involving the pageant world that left us completely speechless.

Which of these scandals had your jaw on the floor? Let us know in the comments!

#10: Intense Backlash
“Toddlers & Tiaras” (2009-13; 2016)

Debuting back in 2009, “Toddlers & Tiaras” quickly made its way to being one of the most controversial TLC shows yet. It produced stars such as Honey Boo Boo, but it also faced a lot of scrutiny from the concerned public. The series featured things like eyebrow waxing toddlers and contestants pretending to smoke on stage. So viewers became increasingly worried about the children’s wellbeing. At least one “Toddlers and Tiaras” parent faced a custody battle due to questionable actions presented on the show. People eventually stopped tuning in, and the show ended up being canceled twice after failing to survive its revival sequel in 2016.

#9: A Controversial Picture
“63rd Miss Universe” (2014)

In 2015, a single photo posted became THE moment. Miss Lebanon Saly Greige posed with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia, and Miss Israel. And here’s where the problems started. The picture, which was originally shared on Instagram, was the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons. Conflicts between Lebanon and Israel persisted for decades, so seeing the two women smiling together caused significant uproar. The backlash was so intense that certain people actually wanted Greige to lose her title. However, she quickly tried to mitigate the damage by addressing the situation in another online post.

#8: “Miss Massachusetts” Takes It Too Far
“Miss Massachusetts” (2018)

No, we’re not talking about the actual Miss Massachusetts, but the competition itself. In 2018, they performed a skit in which a woman asks a fake God why “Miss America” canceled the swimsuit part of the competition. In response, the figure holds up the #MeToo sign. Many contestants were dumbfounded. Miss Plymouth County Maude Gorman was so upset, she gave up her title altogether, choosing to take a stand. Gorman has been a #MeToo supporter, sharing her own experience with assault. The competition apologized, saying the skit was never approved by the Board of Directors. However, the damage was already done.

#7: Katherine Rees’ Legal Issues
“Miss Nevada USA” (2006)

Miss Nevada Katie Rees was stripped of her title in 2006, after compromising photos of her partying circulated online. Rees claimed that they were from an “isolated incident” that happened when she was a teenager. However, the news reports surrounding her behavior didn’t stop there, and her reputation just kept taking hits. She was notably detained after allegedly assaulting a police officer. And in 2009, traces of illicit substances were found on her things. She was subsequently arrested for possession, before being charged with allegedly selling illegal substances later on.

#6: Vanessa Williams Gives Up Her Crown
“57th Miss America” (1983)

This one dates back to the 1980s, and it was a huge deal at the time. Vanessa Williams, who was the first Black winner of the Miss America title, was forced to give up her crown after racy photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine without her approval. This was a gigantic scandal and it certainly took a toll on the star. However, she went on to become incredibly successful, and today, many believe she was treated unfairly. The “Miss America” organization officially apologized for their unjustified actions in 2015. Williams has said that success is the best revenge, and she’s definitely right!

#5: Tara Conner Goes to Rehab
“55th Miss USA” (2006)

Less than a year after being crowned Miss USA back in 2006, Tara Conner faced allegations of excessive substance use. She was even referred to as “Mess USA” in the media. However, she wasn’t stripped of her title like some of the other queens on our list. Indeed, the public was shocked when Donald Trump decided to help her by sending her to rehab. Years later, Conner claimed that by doing so, he helped her survive and get better, crediting him in part for her recovery. The former pageant queen has since worked to help others struggling with substance use.

#4: Rima Fakih's Actions
“59th Miss USA” (2010)

Beauty pageant contestants are people, and some of them like to party. After showing off her skills on a pole, Rima Fakih, who was reportedly the first Arab-American to snag the Miss USA crown, faced a lot of criticism. Though the dancing pics were from a class, her reputation only devolved from there. There were questions about whether or not her title should be removed – though it ultimately wasn’t. Fakih defended her actions, reportedly adding that a Miss USA should be shown as a “real woman” with her own opinions. A few years later, she faced another scandal, this time for a DUI charge.

#3: Steve Harvey's Mistake
“64th Miss Universe” (2015)

This is one of those TV moments that makes you physically cringe. Imagine thinking you won “Miss Universe” only to have your crown taken away because the host messed up the announcement. That’s exactly what happened to Miss Colombia after Steve Harvey made a major mistake and crowned her despite Miss Philippines being the winner. The facepalm moment went viral. Harvey later apologized, but it became a moment that won’t soon be forgotten. Funnily enough, he made another – more minor – error at the 2019 pageant when he announced Miss Philippines as the winner of the national costume contest. Still, his career doesn’t appear to have been permanently damaged by these blunders.

#2: Carrie Prejean's Offensive Comments
“58th Miss USA” (2009)

You might know Carrie Prejean for her antics in 2022, when she made headlines for paying kids who ditch their COVID-19 face masks. This isn’t the first we’ve heard of her controversial views, though. They date back to 2009 when she managed to cause quite a stir as Miss California during the Miss USA pageant. Perez Hilton, who was a judge at the time, asked her whether same-sex marriage should be legalized. She responded by saying that such unions should be “between a man and a woman.” She later lost her Miss California USA title after violating her contract and not fulfilling the appearances required of her.

#1: JonBenét Ramsey’s Passing

On December 26th, 1996, tragedy rocked the beauty pageant world. Young beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in her house. Prior to the discovery, her parents uncovered a ransom note demanding upwards of $100 000. Police were then contacted. After an extensive search, her body was uncovered in the basement, in a state which demonstrated something truly awful had happened to her. Over the years, everyone from law enforcement to conspiracy theorists tried to uncover who killed JonBenét Ramsey. Whether it was her parents, brother, a pageant rival, or a complete stranger is anybody’s guess. The truth remains out there.